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A prisoner-of-war camp is a site for the containment of enemy combatants captured by a belligerent power in time of war. It is similar to an internment camp which is used for civilians. The first recorded use of a purpose built prisoner-of-war camp was during the Napoleonic Wars and they have been in use in all the main conflicts of the last 200 years. The main camps are used for soldiers, sailors, marines, coast guards, and more recently, airmen of an enemy power who have been captured by a belligerent power during or immediately after an armed conflict. In addition, non-combatants, such as merchant mariners and civilian aircrews, have been imprisoned in some conflicts. With the adoption of the Geneva Convention on the Prisoners of War in 1929 and later superseded by the Third Geneva Convention, prisoner of war camps have been required to be open to inspection by authorized representatives of a neutral power. Not all belligerents have consistently applied the convention in all conflicts.
Before the Peace of Westphalia, enemy combatants captured by belligerent forces were usually executed, enslaved, or held for ransom. This, coupled with the relatively small size of armies, meant there was little need for any form of camp to hold prisoners of war. The Peace of Westphalia, a series of treaties signed between May and October 1648 that ended the Thirty Years' War and the Eighty Years' War, contained a provision that all prisoners should be released without ransom. This is generally considered to mark the point where captured enemy combatants would be reasonably treated before being released at the end of the conflict or under a parole not to take up arms. The practice of paroling enemy combatants had begun thousands of years earlier, at least as early as the time of Carthage but became normal practice in Europe from 1648 onwards. The consequent increase in the number of prisoners was to lead eventually to the development of the prisoner of war camps.
Following General John Burgoyne's surrender at the Battle of Saratoga in 1777, several thousand British and German (Hessian and Brunswick) troops were marched to Cambridge, Massachusetts. For various reasons, the Continental Congress desired to move them south. One of Congress' members offered his land outside of Charlottesville, Virginia. The remaining soldiers (some 2,000 British, upwards of 1,900 German, and roughly 300 women and children) marched south in late 1778—arriving at the site (near Ivy Creek) in January 1779. Since the barracks were barely sufficient in construction, the officers were paroled to live as far away as Richmond and Staunton. The camp was never adequately provisioned, but the prisoners built a theater on the site. Hundreds escaped Albemarle Barracks because of the lack of guards. As the British Army moved northward from the Carolinas in late 1780, the remaining prisoners were moved to Frederick, Maryland; Winchester, Virginia; and perhaps elsewhere. No remains of the encampment site are left.
The earliest known purpose-built prisoner-of-war camp was established at Norman Cross, England, in 1797 to house the increasing number of prisoners from the French Revolutionary Wars and the Napoleonic Wars.
Lacking a means for dealing with large numbers of captured troops early in the American Civil War, the Union and Confederate governments relied on the traditional European system of parole and exchange of prisoners. While awaiting exchange, prisoners were confined to permanent camps. Neither Union or Confederate prison camps were always well run and it was common for prisoners to die of starvation or disease. It is estimated that about 56,000 soldiers died in prisons during the war; almost 10% of all Civil War fatalities. During a period of 14 months in Camp Sumter, located near Andersonville, Georgia, 13,000 (28%) of the 45,000 Union soldiers confined there died. At Camp Douglas in Chicago, Illinois, 10% of its Confederate prisoners died during one cold winter month; and Elmira Prison in New York state, with a death rate of 25%, very nearly equaled that of Andersonville.
|Union||Camp Chase||Columbus, Ohio||Established in May 1861 and closed in 1865. The camp's original capacity was for 4,000 men but at times more than 7,000 prisoners were accommodated. The capacity was increased to 7,000 but towards the end of the war up to 10,000 men were crammed into the facility.|
|Union||Camp Douglas||Chicago, Illinois||Become known as "Andersonville of the North", it was established in January 1863 as a permanent POW camp, previously was an organizational and training camp for volunteer regiments of the Union Army (One was actually a POW camp in early 1862, a training camp in late 1862, and become a permanent POW camp in early 1863). Camp Douglas eventually came to be notorious for its poor conditions and death rate of between 17% and 23% percent.|
|Union||Fort Slocum||Davids' Island, New York City||Davids' Island was used from July 1863 to October 1863 as a temporary hospital for Confederate soldiers injured during the Battle of Gettysburg.|
|Union||Elmira Prison||Elmira, New York||Established as Camp Rathbun as a training base, the site was converted to a prisoner of war camp in 1864 with a capacity for approximately 12,000 prisoners. Before its closure in 1865, 2,963 prisoners died from various causes.|
|Union||Fort Delaware||Delaware City, Delaware|
|Union||Fort Warren||Boston, Massachusetts|||
|Union||Gratiot Street Prison||St. Louis, Missouri|||
|Union||Johnson's Island||Lake Erie, Sandusky, Ohio|||
|Union||Ohio Penitentiary||Columbus, Ohio|||
|Union||Old Capitol Prison||Washington, DC|||
|Union||Point Lookout||Saint Mary's County, Maryland|||
|Union||Rock Island Prison||Rock Island, Illinois||A government owned island in the Mississippi River|
|Confederate||Andersonville||Andersonville, Georgia||The site is the National POW Museum|
Of the 45,000 Union soldiers imprisoned here, 13,000 died making it the worst prison in the Civil War.
|Confederate||Belle Isle||Richmond, Virginia|
|Confederate||Blackshear Prison||Blackshear, Georgia|||
|Confederate||Cahaba Prison (Castle Morgan)||Selma, Alabama|
|Confederate||Camp Ford||Near Tyler, Texas|||
|Confederate||Castle Pinckney||Charleston, South Carolina|
|Confederate||Castle Sorghum||Columbia, South Carolina|
|Confederate||Castle Thunder||Richmond, Virginia|
|Confederate||Danville Prison||Danville, Virginia|
|Confederate||Florence Stockade||Florence, South Carolina|
|Confederate||Fort Pulaski||Savannah, Georgia|
|Confederate||Libby Prison||Richmond, Virginia|
|Confederate||Salisbury Prison||Salisbury, North Carolina|
During the Boer Wars the British established concentration camps to hold both civilians and prisoners of war. In total 109 camps were constructed for Boer and black African internees. However, the majority of prisoners of war were sent overseas (25,630 out of the 28,000 Boer men captured during the fighting) with the vast majority of locally held Boer prisoners being women and children. The camps were poorly administered, the food rations insufficient to maintain health, standards of hygiene were low and overcrowding was chronic. Over 26,000 women and children died in the camps during the wars.
|British||Bloemfontein||The camp was constructed in 1900 following the Battle of Paardeberg. It was primarily a concentration camp for civilians of whom 26,370 Boer women and children, 1,421 men and up to 14,154 black Africans died during the camp's existence.|
The first international convention on prisoners of war was signed at the Hague Peace Conference of 1899. It was widened by the Hague Convention of 1907. The main combatant nations engaged in World War I abided by the convention and treatment of prisoners was generally good. The situation on the eastern front was significantly worse than the western front with prisoners in Russia being at risk from starvation and disease. In total during the war about eight million men were held in prisoner of war camps with 2.5 million prisoners in German custody, 2.9 million held by the Russian Empire and about 720,000 held by Britain and France.
Permanent camps did not exist at the beginning of the war. The unexpected large number of prisoners captured in the first days of the war by the German army created an immediate problem. By September 1914 the German army had captured over 200,000 enemy combatants. These first prisoners were held in temporary camps until 1915, by which time the prisoner population had increased to 652,000 living in unsatisfactory conditions. In response the government began the construction of permanent camps both in Germany and the occupied territories. The number of prisoners increased significantly during the war exceeding one million by August 1915, 1,625,000 by August 1916 and reaching 2,415,000 by the end of the war.
The International committee of the Red Cross held a conference in Geneva, Switzerland in September 1917. The Conference spoke of the war and the Red Cross spoke about the conditions that the civilians were living under was similar to those living in prisoner of war camps. The agreements made at the conference were that the Red Cross and all of its workers would provide prisoners of war people with mail, food parcels and clothes and medical supplies to the prisoners. The Red Cross spoke out to the France and Germany to exchange in prisoners through the words of "barbed wire disease" which is the symptoms of mental illness. It was said that the prisoners should be interned in Switzerland, a neutral country. There were a few countries that were not on the same terms as Germany and Austria-Hungary believed that harsh conditions would reduce the number of traitors. The countries in the east continued their fight to help the Red Cross with support. At the end of the war, a Franco-German agreement was made that both countries would exchange their prisoners but the French kept a small number while the Germans released all French prisoners.
Krasnoyarsk, Russia (part of modern day Siberia) was located in the more northern area of the large country. Russia winters are infamous in older historic battles for their deadliness. There were no houses for a place that it made social community. A large number of deaths are accounted for people not being able to survive it. After the loss to the Japanese in the Russo-Japanese war, the Russians became weak and Tsar Nicholas had to do something for his country. He formed military camps to train for any upcoming war. One of those camps was located in Krasnoyarsk. It was considered to be a social community to derive the identity of the country. But the community did not consist of volunteers. Survival was difficult as breaking morals would have been necessary to live in the conditions. Unwillingness to obey orders would lead to punishment, usually death. Individuals in this camp could be conscripted for war while they lived in concentration camps and prisons. There were over 50,000 tenants in the camp for the uses of transportation, agriculture, mining and machinery. Throughout World War I, Prisoners of war from other countries would be captured and sent to various camps including Krasnoyarsk. There was a point where a large mix of nationalities was together in Krasnoyarsk which included Bulgarians, Czechs, Poles and Germans. Many prisoners were nationalists and that led to violent acts within the camp. Militants would be forced to put down instigators and keep the camp running. Another notice is that these camps consisted of young men who had little education waiting to see the larger part of war was captured into labor instead.
From autumn 1920, thousands of captured Red Army men had been placed in the camp of Тuchola, in Pomerania. These prisoners lived in dugouts and many died of hunger, cold and infectious diseases. According to historians Zbigniew Karpus and Waldemar Rezmer, up to 2000 prisoners died in the camp during its operation.
In a joint work of Polish and Russian historians, Karpus and Rezmer estimate the total death toll in all Polish POW camps during the war at 16-17 thousand, while the Russian historian Matvejev estimates it at 18-20 thousand.
On the other side of the frontline about 20,000 out of about 51,000 Polish POWs died in Soviet and Lithuanian camps
While the conditions for Soviet prisoners were clearly exposed by the free press in Poland, no corresponding fact-finding about Soviet camps for Polish POWs could be expected from the tightly controlled Soviet press of the time. Available data shows many cases of mistreatment of Polish prisoners. There have been also cases of Soviet army executing Polish POWs when no POW facilities were available.
The 1929 Geneva Convention on the Prisoners of War established the certain provisions relative to the treatment of prisoners of war. One requirement was that POW camps were to be open to inspection by authorised representatives of a neutral power.
Not all combatants applied the provisions of the convention. In particular the Empire of Japan, which had signed but never ratified the convention, was notorious for its treatment of prisoners; this poor treatment occurring in part because the Japanese viewed surrender as dishonourable. Prisoners from all nations were subject to forced labour, beatings, murder and even medical experimentation. Rations fell short of the minimum required to sustain life and many were forced into labour. After March 20, 1943, the Imperial Navy was under orders to execute all prisoners taken at sea.
The Cowra breakout, on August 5, 1944, is believed to be the largest escape of POWs in recorded history and possibly the largest prison breakout ever. At least 545 Japanese POWs attempted to escape from a camp near Cowra, New South Wales, Australia. Most sources say that 234 POWs were killed or committed suicide. The remainder were recaptured.
The Great Papago Escape, on December 23, 1944, was the largest POW escape to occur from an American facility. Over 25 German POWs tunneled out of Camp Papago Park, near Phoenix, Arizona, and fled into the surrounding desert. Most of them were eventually recaptured without bloodshed over the next few weeks.
Much larger amount of service was put into the Red Cross after World War I because of the 40 million civilians and prisoners that they could not save before. The Red Cross provided millions of Red Cross parcels to Allied POWs in Axis prison camps during the course of World War II; most of these contained food and personal hygiene items, while others held medical kits. A special "release kit" parcel was also provided to some newly released PoWs at the war's end. During the United States' call for war on Japan, the Red Cross stepped up to provide services for the soldiers overseas. A large amount of provisions were needed for the soldiers in World War II over the 4 years that the Americans were involved. The American Red Cross and thirteen million volunteers had donated in the country with an average weekly donation of 111,000 pints of blood. Nurses, doctors and volunteer workers overseas were along the front lines to use these provisions for the wounded and that in need. This program saved over thousands of lives and packets of plasma would be dropped into camps and bases. The larger problem with this program and generosity were those who could get involved. The Red Cross only accepted donations from white Americans and excluded those of Japanese, Italian, German and African-American descent from their donations of blood. Discriminatory acts made through social hierarchies were in effect rose up from a good deed such as a simple donation of blood for the soldiers across seas fighting for the country.[clarification needed] Speakers had tried to work out segregation back home using scientific facts that white blood and black blood are one and the same.
Click here for another List of World War II POW camps
Leading up to war, Japan was slowly establishing itself as a superpower but the country was much too small and therefore they needed more resources. The Japanese attacked countries such as Hong Kong, Singapore, Thailand, China (annexing Manchuria) and the Philippines. Before attacking Pearl Harbor, the Japanese had attacked Thailand and captured an area defended by 10 000 British and Indian troops in Malaya. They attacked Pearl Harbor which led to the United States declaring war against them. In 1942, they had taken Hong Kong and set up camps along Kowloon. China was not nearly as advanced in technology at the time but put up strong resistance to the Japanese advance. From there they dominated Asia. It was said that the Japanese were fighting for the Asiatic and "yellow races" against "White Supremacy".
The camps the Japanese ran were brutal. Many prisoners lost their lives in these camps. The Japanese believed it was shameful to be captured alive in combat. The warrior spirit was a Japanese field army code that was celebrated in January 1941 which states that an individual must calmly face death. Those who disobeyed orders would be sentenced to death by the symbolic Japanese sword. The sword was seen as a symbol of wisdom and perseverance to the Japanese, and that it was an honor to die by it.
In the camps, prisoners were forced to do physical labour such as building bridges, forming forts and digging trenches in preparation for defense. These prisoners did not have much to eat, did not have much clothing or in some cases any clothing at all. Some of the guards were so brutal that they would answer requests for water with their fists or rifle butts. If prisoners were seen as no use, physically weak or rebellious, they would be killed. At the end of the war when the camp inmates were released many had lost body parts and many were starved and like walking skeletons. Some prisoners feared death from the Americans dropping bombs on the camps rather than at Japanese hands. Mental illness affected prisoners traumatized by the sheer brutality of guards. Lieutenant Colonel Phillip Toosey shared his experiences in the camps. According to Toosey, the Japanese committed brutal atrocities. Some of these included filling a prisoner's nose with water while they tied them with barbed wire, then they would stand on the prisoners, stepping on the wires. They would tie the prisoner on a tree by their thumbs with their toes barely touching the ground and leave them there for 2 days with no food or water. After the two days of torture, they would be jailed until death. The bodies would later be burnt.
Life in the POW camps was recorded at great risk to themselves by artists such as Jack Bridger Chalker, Philip Meninsky, John Mennie, Ashley George Old and Ronald Searle. Human hair was often used for brushes, plant juices and blood for paint, and toilet paper as the 'canvas'. Some of their works were used as evidence in the trials of Japanese war criminals. Many are now held by the Australian War Memorial, State Library of Victoria and the Imperial War Museum in London.
In many cases, survivors of camps would be traumatized or ended up living with a disability. Many survivors went home or to other areas of the world to have a successful life as businessmen or they would devote themselves to help those in need of support in areas of poverty or camps. The Japanese camps totalled the most deaths out of any prisoner of war camps therefore making it the most brutal. The Red Cross had not dropped any parcels into these camps because they were too well defended to fly over.
The Second World War was mainly fought in Europe and western Russia, East Asia, and the Pacific; there were no invasions of Canada. The few prisoners of war sent to Canada included Japanese and German soldiers, captured U-boat crews, and prisoners from raids such as Dieppe and Normandy.
The camps meant for German POWs were smaller than those meant for Japanese prisoners, and were far less brutal. German prisoners generally benefitted from good food. However, the hardest part was surviving the Canadian winters. Most camps were isolated, and located in the far north. Death and sickness caused by the elements was common.
Many camps were only lightly watched, and as such, many Germans attempted escape. Tunnelling was the most common method. Peter Krug, an escapee from a prison located in Bowmanville, Ontario managed to escape along the railroads, using forests as cover. He made his way to Toronto, where he then travelled to Texas.
Fighting, sometimes to the death, was somewhat common. Punishments for major infractions could include death by hanging. German POWs wore shirts with a large red dot painted on the back, an easily identifiable mark outside the camps. Escapees could be easily found and recaptured.
In the wake of the Japanese attacking Hong Kong, the Philippines and Pearl Harbor in which 2000 Canadians were involved, Canadians put a large focus onto Japanese-Canadians even through innocent. Japan seemed to be able to attack along the Pacific and Canada could potentially be next. Canadian Prime Minister William Lyon Mackenzie King implemented the War Measure Act and Defense of Canada Regulations therefore they could not get involved with Canadian services along with the Italians and Germans. The Japanese were stripped of possessions as they were auctioned off later on. The intense cold winters made it hard to live as the Japanese were placed in camps; these campers were made of Japanese immigrants and Japanese-Canadians. They lived in barns and stables which were used for animals, therefore unsanitary. It took 5 years after the war for the Japanese to gain their rights. Compensations were given but was not enough to cover for the loss of properties. Over 22,000 Japanese were put into these camps.
In many POW camps, cigarettes were widely used as currency in the form of 'commodity money'. They performed the function of money as a medium of exchange. This was because they were generally accepted among the prisoners for settling payments or debts. They also performed the function of money as a unit of account. Prices of other goods were expressed in terms of cigarettes. Compared with other goods, the supply of cigarettes was more stable, as they were rationed in the POW camps, and cigarettes were more divisible, portable and homogeneous.
The International Red Cross visited U.N. POW camps, often unannounced, noting prisoner hygiene, quality of medical care, variety of diet and weight gain. They talked to the prisoners and asked for their comments on conditions, as well as providing them with copies of the Geneva Convention. The IRC delegates dispersed boots, soap and other requested goods.
In 1952 the camp's administration was afraid that the prisoners would riot and demonstrate on May Day (a day honoring Communism) and so U.S. navy ships (such as the USS Gunston Hall (LSD-5)) removed 15,000 North Korean and Chinese prisoners from the island and moved them to prison facilities at Ulsan and Cheju-do. These ships also participated in Operation Big Switch in September 1953 when prisoners were exchanged at the end of the war.
The Chinese operated three types of POW camps during the Korean war. Peace camps housed POWs who were sympathetic to communism, reform camps were intended for skilled POWs who were to be indoctrinated in communist ideologies and the third type was the normal POW camps. Chinese policy did not allow for the exchange of prisoners in the first two camp types.
While these POW Camps were designated numerically by the communists, the POWs often gave the camps a name.
By the end of 1965, Viet Cong suspects, prisoners of war, and even juvenile delinquents were mixed together in South Vietnamese jails and prisons. After June 1965 the prison population steadily rose until by early 1966 there was no space for more prisoners in the existing jails and prisons. In 1965 plans were made to construct five POW camps, each having an initial capacity of 1,000 prisoners. Each camp would be staffed by the South Vietnamese military police, with U.S. military policemen as prisoner of war advisers being assigned to each stockade.
Prisons and jails
|This section requires expansion. (January 2007)|
The United States has refused to grant prisoner-of-war status to many prisoners captured during its 2001 invasion of Afghanistan and 2003 invasion of Iraq. This is mainly because the insurgents or terrorists never meet the requirements laid down by the Third Geneva Convention of 1949 such as being part of a chain of command, wearing a "fixed distinctive marking, visible from a distance", bearing arms openly, and conducting military operations in accordance with the laws and customs of war. The legality of this refusal has been questioned and cases are pending in the U.S. courts. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Hamdan v. Rumsfeld on June 29, 2006, that the captives at Guantanamo Bay detention camp were entitled to the minimal protections listed under Common Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions. This is under dispute. Other captives, including Saddam Hussein, have been accorded POW status. The International Red Cross has been permitted to visit at least some sites. It has been alleged that many prisoners are held in secret locations or by friendly governments. Known sites include: